Police Abuse

Remember the Vallejo Cop Who Tackled a Veteran for Filming Him?

Now he's being sued for another act of excessive force.

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Remember the police officer in Vallejo, California, who made national headlines in January for tackling a man who'd been filming him on a cell phone? Now he's being sued for beating someone in a separate incident.

In a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday, Santiago Hutchins alleges that Officer David McLaughlin, who was off-duty at the time, held him at gunpoint following a verbal altercation outside a pizzeria in 2018 and then used unconstitutional and excessive force to arrest him. Cellphone footage obtained earlier this year by local news station KTVU shows McLaughlin punching and elbowing Hutchins while two other officers hold Hutchins down.

Santiago Hutchins being treated after a violent arrest.

According to the lawsuit, Hutchins suffered "a concussion, right eye hematoma, facial pain, headache, swelling in the head, face contusions, face lacerations muscle strains, and rib contusions" as a result of the beating.

Hutchins was arrested on suspicion of disturbing the peace, according to the East Bay Times, but the charges were later dropped. On October, Hutchins' attorney filed an internal affairs complaint with the Vallejo Police Department on Hutchins' behalf. According to Hutchins' lawsuit, neither Hutchins nor his lawyer ever received a response to the complaint.

Hutchins also filed a claim for damages against the city, a precursor to a civil rights lawsuit, against Vallejo. In April, Vallejo rejected his claim, on the grounds that McLaughlin was not on-duty as a city employee when the incident happened.

"The city has not yet been served with this lawsuit, though it has denied the claim, finding that Officer McLaughlin was off duty at the time of the incident," Vallejo city attorney Claudia Quintana says in a statement to Reason.

Six months after Hutchins' violent arrest, McLaughlin got into an altercation with Vallejo resident Adrian Burrell, a documentary filmmaker and former Marine. Burrell was standing on his porch filming the traffic stop of his cousin with his cell phone.

When McLaughlin saw Burrell filming him, he ordered him to get back, although Burrell was standing about 20 to 30 feet away. Burrell refused.

"You're interfering with me, my man?" McLaughlin asked as he holstered his gun and approached Burrell. "You're interfering, you're going to get one from the back of the car."

Although filming the police is protected under the First Amendment as long as it doesn't interfere with police duties, McLaughlin walked up to Burrell, swept him to the ground, and placed him under arrest.

Burrell was detained in the back of a squad car but eventually released, allegedly after police discovered he was a Marine veteran. He says he suffered a concussion as a result of being thrown to the ground.

Reason reported on Hutchins and Burrell's cases earlier this year as part of a larger story on the Vallejo Police Department. Despite its relatively small size, the department has generated a large number of civil rights lawsuits and settlement payouts:

Like many recorded instances of police misconduct over the past five years, Burrell's cellphone footage, uploaded to Facebook, went viral, sparking national media coverage. But it was only one of a string of high-profile police incidents in recent months that have inflamed long-running tensions in Vallejo—a diverse, blue-collar city north of Oakland, California—between the city's police department and its citizens. Almost all of the recent incidents have been caught on cellphones or police-worn body cameras. Local activists say they finally show what lawsuits and protesters have complained of for years.

Vallejo has paid out millions of dollars to settle civil lawsuits alleging wrongful deaths, brutality, and misconduct over the past decade. According to Claudia Quintana, Vallejo city attorney, there are currently 35 pending claims and lawsuits in connection with the Vallejo Police Department, 16 of which allege excessive force. There have been accusations of police retaliation against victims who have come forward, the police chief resigned in April, and the mayor has asked that the Justice Department come to town to try to mend the frayed relationship between police and the community.

McLaughlin was put on leave on February 4, three days after local reporters obtained footage of Hutchins' beating and reported that he was the same officer from the Burrell incident.

Burrell has not yet filed a civil rights lawsuit. Last month, the City of Vallejo denied his claim as well.

"We intend to hold every officer to high standards whether on duty or off duty," Vallejo's interim Police Chief Joe Allio says. "At all times the city takes seriously any reported conduct  that compromises the trust our community places in us."

Reason has been waiting more than six months to receive public records from the Oakland and Vallejo police departments on McLaughlin's misconduct history.